Sound Profile Magazine Article - 2015

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David Henderson, Austin, TX  - by Tim Abbott


It’s a Thursday night at the Parish Underground.  Half-a-dozen people are listening to the David Henderson Trio start things off with some cuts off their recent hip CD, Dream Light, a blues-jazz-rock mishmash that stars Henderson as songwriter, singer, guitar monster, bandleader, gear-head, studio engineer, and producer.  The guitar work is all there, but that’s just part of it.  Professor Lynne Davis holds down the bass with a keen radar ear as to her sound in the mix and Kevin Scott the "Groovesmif" is something just this side of Billy Cobham.  People walking by on 6th Street can’t help it, they are drawn in and the place is jammed 20 minutes later.  Henderson not only jams out respectively on guitar, but he also has vocals with a strong high tenor range.  I’ve seen trios work it before, but few like this one.  They tear into “One Way Out”, the Allman Brothers staple, and Henderson plays some slide that raises a few appreciative eyebrows.  The tip jar begins to fill. 

 

~~~~ Earlier Days, Influences~~~~ 
“I began to play music with my younger brother, Jonathan, living on Long Island.  I was 14, he was 12.  I originally picked up the bass as my brother was playing guitar and we caught the bug.  We just wanted to play, so we just got a hold of records and learned completely from them: taking the vinyl, taking the needle, sticking it down, lifting it up, setting it back down.  We started on Beatles songs, Rolling Stone songs, Allman Brothers songs.  I can remember my best friend down the street, Peter Jackson, he played guitar too.  He had an older brother who had all the cool records and he turned us onto the Allman Brothers, Jethro Tull, The Who, Black Sabbath, just all that new stuff, that’s how it started.  We’d just come home right after school, plug-in, start working on the records, trying to play songs, trying to put a band together, make music.  I played bass for about a year and, after awhile, I’d sneak into my brother’s room and play his guitar.  I’d get in a room with the black Fillmore East record and that was it for me.  I just learned that record note for note, every lyric, every lick.” 


He did it “Old School”, manually setting the phonograph needle on a particular song repeatedly, to dissect it, long before smart phones were around.  Many needles and many records were worn out, but the mission was accomplished and with it his experience level grew.  “I repeatedly bought the same records over and over as I wore them out.  I had yet to discover the trick that you could you could turn the speed down to 16 and do it that way. ” 


“I started recording on 4 track cassettes when they came out, then I bought a Teac 4 track reel to reel in 1982.  I was heavy into production bouncing tracks back and forth, doing drum tracks, guitar tracks, etc.  That’s the thing about music, it’s a life-time pursuit, there are so many levels to participate in, each one has its place.  It’s never-ending.  There are so many facets and angles to music that fascinated me, inspired me.  The gear part: what’s the right guitar, the right amp for it, the right pedal, cable?  Then, how do I record that, mic that, what’s the right pre-amp, what are the effects, how do I mix that, how do I master that?  It’s a lifetime of discovery, work.  I’ve been doing this a long time, spent a lot of time making my sound as good as possible.  I say a lot of time…I’ll go off for 3 or 4 years on something.” 
FYI: Gerry Granahan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerry_Granahan 


In my junior year of high school in Rhode Island I was playing out every weekend and I hooked up with a famous rock ‘n’ roller from the 60’s, name of Gerry Granahan.  He had a few hits and his wife was one of the Shirelles.  Also, he was a producer, been in a band called Dickie Do And The Don’ts and Gerry Granahan and the Fireflies.  I hooked up with him at that young age and he was my first mentor in terms of, like, teaching you the basics of how to play in a band and be in a group.  I was young and green, you know, so I had to learn that you don’t solo over vocalists, you learn to make nice with everyone in the band.  Things you now take for granted after doing it so many years.  He just drilled all that into my head.  Very fortunate.  I quit school, thinking then music was going to be my thing, and I toured with Jerry and then did 6 months on a cruise ship.  Then my dad tracked me down and told me that if I was going to do the music thing then I might as well get a formal education around that.  So, we looked around and the best one was Berklee College of Music.  Back then, Berklee was primarily a jazz school, not like it is today as a more popular production, it was more of a jazz place.  My problem was that I wasn’t a formal musician, knowing no formal theory.  My challenge was to convince them that even though I couldn’t read music, I could make it through a semester and show them.  They initially didn’t accept me.  My dad took me to go see Lee Berk personally, my dad was a “never give up” kind of guy.  We scheduled a meeting with Berk at Berklee, drove up to Boston, and chatted a bit.  Then Berk said, ‘Well, let’s hear you play.’ ”  And play he did.  He was accepted, went to Berklee for 3 years, studied Composition. Performance, and Film Scoring, and never worked harder at anything in his life.  “It was like boot camp for musicians. They try to discourage you, to find out if you are really serious or not, back in those days. ” 


He got his formal 3 years of training and education at Berklee and his knowledge base was expanded, which lead to a gig out in L.A. with the offspring of jazz and big band man, Billy Eckstine’s.  “Guy Eckstine was a drummer and his sister Gina was the singer.  I had that gig for 2 years, got a bunch of session work out of it.  I was then trying to be a studio guy out in L.A.  Then I met Stevie Woods, who had a big hit with “Steal The Night”, touring with him for a year.” 

~~~~The Long Path To Success~~~~ 
Right before he moved to L.A. he met a gal, Tami, fell deeply in love, and decided to get married.  An attractive, intelligent woman, Tami gave David stability and believed in him. [This marriage is still be thriving decades later, having raised 2 kids.] 
“I was struggling trying to make ends meet and I wanted to raise a family, too.  My dad was in the TV business, I had pretty much grown up in that atmosphere relocating frequently.  So I walked away from music, putting it on hold, my wife got pregnant, my dad got me a job with Katz Media, selling TV ad time.  Did that for 10 years, doing Nielsen ratings research.  After 10 years I was Division Vice President, all the time still playing music, mostly by myself.  I felt cynical about the music business after L.A.  You prostitute yourself playing music you don’t like to make ends meet.  It’s a bad feeling ’cause you are trying to make a living at it.  That’s the problem I’ve always faced, trying to make a living off playing music.” 

So instead he decided to make money …Internet 1.0.  He saw the computer revolution begin to take hold in the music world. He got involved in computers and connected that with music early on.  Ripe and ready to go in 1995, he shot like a cannonball to success creating 5 start-ups.  He quit his job at Katz, started DoubleClick, the first internet advertising network, and became an internet rock star, which started his tech career on fire. 


“Funny thing about techies is most all of us are musicians; it goes hand in hand.  It got me back into music even more, but I kept doing great in business, so I kept at it for a decade.  Then came the Dot Crash and we crashed with it.   For the next 4 years no one could get any funding, people were laying employees off. ”  He didn’t rest on his laurels.  “I invented an The Online Discussion Network, which was about trying to help artists who I liked (Robben Ford, Scott Henderson, Michael Landau, Guthrie Govan) to build communities around themselves.  This was before Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I had around 20 artists that I was helping out and became friends with many of them, so all I did from 2002-2005 was do this and write, and play music. ” 


More business events happened, more success, but things change regularly in David’s life.  The three constants in his life were his rock-solid marriage to his soul-mate, his family, and music.  Two of those were about to change in huge ways. 
~~~~Dark Clouds and Silver Linings~~~~ 


In the year 2000 Jonathan, David’s brother, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and given months to live.  He wanted to fight the disease with every ounce of life he had.  He was living in Atlanta at the time and David talked him into moving to Colorado with him, to fight the cancer together.  One day they went to Red Rocks to see, of all bands, their old heroes they cut their musical teeth on, the Allman Brothers.  That lit a fuse.  Since they were now living in the same city they decided to put a band together, just like when they were kids.  It had be a good thing, they figured, to do while Jonathan went through chemotherapy treatments.  “We figured we’d just play all the songs we liked and didn’t care if anyone else liked them or not.  WE will like it.  So we started this band, the Henderson Brothers Band, we did Allmans, Creedence, Stones, and more and we’d just rock the places we played.  That refueled my musical inspiration and got me closer to my brother. ” 
And the music had an effect on his brother and Jonathan didn’t go down easy.  He fought cancer for 8 years, not 6 months. Every time he’d go down and David would think, “Well, this is it.”, and then Jon would rebound.  He tried aggressive surgeries to fight it, three times alone for lung operations .  This would succeed for 4 years, then it would come back again and he’d fight it all over again. 


One day, the day he was supposed to go home from the ICU as planned, it didn’t happen.  He caught ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) and his lungs refused to oxygenate his blood.  After 60 days in a coma and with less than 20% chance of survival, he lay at death’s door, but he rallied yet again.  For 60 days straight David was at his brother’s bedside.  He could see his brother slowly go downhill.  His 02 (oxygen) levels were dropping everyday.  One day, a nurse suggested they flip Jon over and, of all things, the 02 levels start to go up.  A week later Jon was conscious again.  After being in a coma for 2 months his muscles had atrophied and he had lost 50 lbs.  Yet, after intense physical therapy he was…booking a gig for the band to play!  As time went by Jon re-gained his weight, but approximately 2 years later he had intense headaches and was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Two weeks later the Colorado police called David and wanted to speak with him in person.  His brother had gone into his favorite bar, had a beer, argued some politics, then walked out to his car where he had a seizure and died on the spot.  That left a huge vacuum in David’s life. 


“It was great to hang with my brother the last 8 years of his life, but it was such an intense roller-coaster.  Fighting a war you know you eventually can’t win, but he fought it.  I’m so proud of him.  It’s tough, man, tough to go through all of that, but he did. ” 
As the shock of that sunk in David started to put his own band together, but he wasn’t really motivated, sinking into a funk. That was followed by the death of his mother, who suffered from heart disease, a mere  five months later.  “After that it was all music for me.  I lost myself in my music.  I came to Austin for SXSW, visited Saxon Pub, and was in awe.  Here were people who were actually watching and paying attention to the music being played.  It blew me away, so I intended to move here and I did.  It was like being born again.” 


~~~~The Trio Is Born~~~~ 
“I met my early drummer, Steve Mankenberg, and we auditioned a few bass players, got a residency gig at Strange Brew on a Sunday afternoon.  I started doing my trio there.  In Austin, everyone plays in 17 different bands.  My bass player had another gig and I met Lynne at a few jam sessions around town, so asked her to fill in.  Then when Steve couldn’t make a gig, Lynne suggested Kevin Scott and he was free to fill in, and so my replacements soon became my regulars.” 


My experience with Henderson crosses over in many areas.  As a writer, he’s like an energizer bunny, constantly churning out melodies and riffs be it jazz, rock, or blues.  As an engineer and player he is Steady Freddie reliable.  He knows his gear, his sound, and his theory and the results are as good as anyone in the city.  His recent CD, Dream Light, showcases many of his originals, but why stop there?  He also has in the works to market personalized guitar lessons online.  He seldom rests.  He’s a true geekster gear head and always on top of the latest musical innovations.  He knows the special link between artist and computer. 


As a guitarist playing in a trio?  He gets it.  Bassist Lynne Davis claims, “He is one of the most clever, creative guys I know.  Both sides of his brain are working in tandem.  Just a pleasure to play onstage with him.” 


David Henderson is a success story on all levels.   A complex musical intellectual, a loyal family man married to the same woman for decades who has raised and put two kids through college, a true self-made man who conquered his own fears and who has shown us all what brotherly love is all about, and he’s just getting warmed up.  He’ll tell you about his musical heroes and mentors, but he’s not fooling anyone.  There is but one giant influence at work here and that influences name is Jonathan Henderson.  When you lose a brother that close, you lose a part of yourself.  As an artist he has been able to channel that grief. Henderson’s trio plays around town and I suggest you catch them if you like your live music played tight, by musicians who are at the top of the talent scale.